The cover art of Before Them, We. Credit: Adama Jalloh.

The cover art of Before Them, We. Credit: Adama Jalloh.

In Before Them, We, 24 U.K. Poets of African Descent Explore Their Grandparents’ Lives

In Before Them, We, 24 U.K. Poets of African Descent Explore Their Grandparents’ Lives

The UK press flipped eye publishing is delighted to announce the publication of the new poetry anthology Before Them, We (January 27, 2022), featuring contributions from UK-based Black poets of African descent, including Dzifa Benson, Nick Makoha, Inua Ellams, Siana Bangura, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Yomi Sode, and more.

Edited by flipped eye Senior Poetry Editor Jacob Sam-La Rose and curated by Ruth Sutoyé, the anthology will explore the lives of grandparents and elders before the families they went on to establish, digging deep into those narratives of their lives that are lessen known: who they loved, where and why they migrated, why they had families. The result of a collaborative effort of poets of African descent to bring their personal stories in conversation with each other, the anthology is a poetic meditation on how we engage with the practice of memory.

Featuring 24 poets between commissioned writers and poets who responded to a call-out, ranging from Gen Z to mature voices, contributors include: multi-disciplinary artist, poet and playwright Dzifa Benson; Nigerian-born award-winning poet, playwright and performer Inua Ellams; Zimbabwean literary and sound artist Belinda Zhawi; queer non-binary Nigerian/Togolese writer and performer Michelle Tiwo; Ghanaian-British producer and writer Nii Ayikwei Parkes, who has won acclaim as a children’s author, poet, broadcaster and novelist; Hodan Yusuf, a writer, actress, multimedia journalist and trainer in conflict resolution; digital Somali cultural archivist and independent researcher Ibrahim Hirsi; and Ola Elhassan, a Sudanese poet and electrical engineer.

As lockdown radically changed the way we live and perceive our family relationships, Before Them, We is a call to action to adult grand-children, not only to preserve their family histories, but also to pass it on to future generations—much like African traditions have been doing orally for centuries.

The anthology is part of a larger multidisciplinary project, which included a photography exhibition in summer 2021 and a series of events such as long table panels, a documentary photography workshop, an oral history workshop, and a poetry film screening.

The Contributors 

  • Asmaa Jama 
  • Be Manzini 
  • Belinda Zhawi 
  • Clementine E Burnley 
  • Damilola Ogunrinde 
  • Dzifa Benson 
  • Esther Kondo 
  • Gabriel Akamo 
  • Gboyega Odubanjo 
  • Hibaq Osman 
  • Hodan Yusuf 
  • Ibrahim Hirsi
  • Inua Ellams 
  • Janet Kofi-Tsekpo
  • Michelle Tiwo 
  • Nick Makoha 
  • Nii Ayikwei Parkes
  • Ola Elhassan 
  • Sarah Lasoye 
  • Siana Bangura 
  • Tania Nwachukwu 
  • Thembe Mvula 
  • Tolu Agbelusi 
  • Yomi Sode 

Ruth Sutoyé, Curator of Before Them, We, said: 

Before Them, We is an offering to memory and preservation of African diaspora familial histories. An offering to my late grandmother who serves as the project’s inspiration, the many lives she lived and shared with me. It’s an ode to grief and to the life stories of our elders that were/are lesser known.

It has been a great joy to give to this body of work through photography, but even more bringing together an incredible range of poets and storytellers of African descent who have contributed and engaged collectively in this form of family archiving. Contributing to the Black, African, Diasporic canon and honouring our elders’ narratives permanently was one of the larger objectives.

One hope for readers is that they find stories they are drawn to and relate with shared from the poets, but potentially more importantly, the greater hope is that this collection inspires urgency within readers to document their grandparents and elders’ life stories whilst they are still alive to tell them or to be intentional in the pursuit of documenting even if they are no longer here. Bringing this vision to life in partnership with the trusted lens and experience of Jacob Sam-La Rose and flipped eye, has been wonderful.

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